New Syriac Catholic Archbishop Survived ISIS Kidnapping

The new Syriac Catholic archbishop of Homs, Syria, had spent almost five months as a prisoner of Islamic State rebels in 2015.

Members of the synod of the Patriarchate of Antioch of the Syrians elected Msgr. Jacques Mourad archbishop of Homs and Pope Francis gave his assent to the election, the Vatican announced 7 January.

Then-Father Mourad was abducted by Islamic State militants from Qaryatain, Syria, where he served as prior of the ancient Syriac Catholic Mar Elian monastery. The militants also kidnapped Boutros Hanna, a deacon.

In a November 2015 interview with Catholic News Service, he spoke about being beaten and threatened by his captors, but also about how he and Hanna survived with prayer.

Eight days into their captivity, a man dressed head-to-toe in black entered the room, he said, and he thought that was the end.

To the two prisoners’ surprise, their would-be executioner did not treat them as though they were “infidels” (Christians), who are considered as impure and beneath fanatic Muslims: The man in black shook their hands, greeted them with “salam alaykoum” (peace be with you) and asked questions as if he would like to get acquainted.

When Father Mourad asked, “Why are we here?” the masked man told the priest to consider it as a “khaelwe,” which in Arabic means a time of spiritual reflection, a spiritual retreat.

“I needed this concept of a ‘spiritual retreat,’ ” the priest told CNS. “I felt that the Lord was speaking through this masked Muslim. It gave me a push to keep going.”

Born in Aleppo, Syria, 28 June 1968, he attended seminary in Lebanon and earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and theology and a license in liturgy from Saint-Esprit University in Kaslik. Returning to Syria, he entered the monastic community of Deir Mar Musa, of which he is a co-founder, and made his vows there in July 1993.

A month later, he was ordained a priest and incardinated in the Archeparchy of Homs. From 2000 to 2015, he was in charge of the Mar Elian monastery and the parish of Qaryatayn.

After escaping from his Islamic State captors, he lived for a time in Italy and in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq. He returned to Syria in 2020, taking up duties as deputy superior of the Mar Elian community and continuing to provide pastoral care to Catholics at Qaryatayn.

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